The Detroit Lions host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in a matchup following brutal losses by both clubs in Week 10. Sitting at 6-3, the Lions remain in a tie for second place in the NFC North with Chicago, a team that laid the smack down on Stafford and the Honolulu blue in a 37-13 drubbing last week.
Lions QB Matt Stafford will, no doubt, look to come out sharp following that game, in which he delivered more points to Chicago DBs (14) than to his own receivers (seven). It has been reported that Stafford played through a broken finger in that one, requiring him to wear a glove on his throwing hand, which many blamed for his poor accuracy.
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is surely hoping that some of the discomfort made apparent by Stafford's play against the Bears will have subsided heading into the matchup with Carolina.
Quarterback Cam Newton and the rest of the Panthers offense were equally ineffective in a 30-3 Week 10 loss versus the Tennessee Titans. A Panthers defense, which has been among the worst in the league at stopping the run, was exposed by Titans RB Chris Johnson in his best performance of the year, where he tallied 130 yards on the ground.
With starting running back Jahvid Best slated to miss his fourth consecutive game with injury, it will be essential for the Lions that fill-in Maurice Morris is able to take advantage of the lax Carolina run defense in the same fashion many others have.
The key to the Lions offense is a balance between run and pass, allowing one-on-one opportunities for WR Calvin Johnson on the outside.
Megatron was held in check against Chicago, failing to score a touchdown for just the second time this season. He remains atop the league in TD receptions, however, and a mediocre Carolina secondary will likely give up at least one score to the freak wideout before Sunday's game is through.
The Lions defense has likely watched plenty of tape from last weekend's Panther loss in order to emulate the Titans defense's success against one of the league's most dangerous young players, rookie QB Cam Newton.
The first-year starter out of Auburn has shown the ability to shred defenses both through the air and on the ground. It will be important that Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the D-town defensive front give him very little decision-making time if they hope to be successful in slowing down this unique offensive threat.
This matchup is a must-win for the Lions if they hope to maintain their current grasp on an NFC playoff spot. With a substantially more difficult schedule to close out the season, Detroit faces off against the powerful Packers and Saints in sequential weeks following this one.
Their biggest roadblock to the playoffs may prove to be the same Chicago team that embarrassed them in Week 10, as Lovie Smith's group features the same 6-3 record with a much more favorable schedule moving forward to the end of the season.
It appears to be a forgone conclusion that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will run away with the NFC North division title, leaving the Bears and Lions with the remainder of the NFC's second-place teams in a race for two wild-card spots.
It is fair to assume that it will take at least 10 wins to be granted one of those highly-coveted consolation seeds, and without winning against Carolina on Sunday, the Lions may find it increasingly difficult to reach this double-digit win mark.
The Lions are surely aware of that fact and will likely come out against Carolina with increased vigor to add another victory to their current tally, in search of their first playoff berth in over a decade.
Look for Suh and the Lions defense to keep Cam and the Panthers offense off the field long enough to build up an insurmountable lead and finish this one on top by a wide margin.
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